Sedation DentistryMany factors can come into play to cause apprehension about visiting a dental office. Fortunately, there are also many solutions to dental anxiety that can help you to overcome your nervousness and get the treatment you need to ensure strong and healthy teeth and gums.

Modern dentistry is largely pain-free, yet many people still avoid the dentist, even to the extent of foregoing routine check-ups and basic preventive treatment. The underlying causes of stress about getting dental care may be unfounded and illogical, but that doesn’t make the problem any less real if you suffer from dental anxiety.

Apprehension that prevents you from getting professional dental care puts you at much greater risk of damage to your oral health and general wellbeing.

Regular dental examinations and professional cleanings play an important role in keeping your teeth and gums in good condition. In cases such as gum disease or tooth decay, prompt treatment is imperative to prevent further complications, including infections that can spread to other parts of your body.

Nevertheless, dental apprehension is a common problem. Studies indicate that 75 percent of people have some level of nervousness about dental appointments. Other research shows that 15 percent refuse to visit a dentist because they’re too afraid.

How to Overcome Dental Anxiety

Common dental anxieties stem from worries over:

  • Pain.
  • Unsightly teeth.
  • Injections.
  • The dental drill.

Let’s look at solutions to dental anxiety to overcome these fears.

Concerns About Pain

If you’ve had an uncomfortable experience in a dental office in the past, this may be causing nervousness about future dental care. A further problem is that when you tense up, you may become more sensitive to pain. The fact is, though, that anesthetics such as numbing gels can be administered for many treatments nowadays to provide a pain-free experience. Relaxation techniques like deep-breathing exercises can help to ease your concerns, and so can finding a dentist you feel comfortable with.

Self-Consciousness About the State of Your Teeth

If you’ve been avoiding dental care through anxiety, time may well have taken its toll on your teeth, in the absence of professional cleanings. Dentists deal with damaged and discolored teeth every day, and will probably have seen far worse cases than yours. When you schedule an appointment, tell your dentist about your feelings of embarrassment. Good dentists are sympathetic rather than judgmental. Knowing that your dentist is aware of your problem can help you to be more relaxed during your visit.

Apprehension About Injections

Many people worry about injections, particularly in the gums. Modern dentistry uses very effective desensitizing gels before injections, so you shouldn’t feel a thing. Talk to your dentist ahead of your appointment. They are familiar with these types of anxieties and will be able to offer reassurance.

Fear of the Dental Drill

The sound of the dental drill may trigger anxiety. However, with local anesthetic, you won’t feel any pain, just a mild sensation of pressure and vibrations. Listening to music through earphones can provide a calming distraction.

What Causes Dental Anxiety?

Identifying the root cause of your apprehension will help you to work toward a solution to your dental anxiety – it’s difficult to overcome stress if you don’t know exactly what you’re fearful about.

What happens in the brain to trigger dental apprehension1 has been studied by neuroscientists who scanned people’s brains while the subjects listened to the typical sounds of a dental practice, such as suction instruments and drills.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, they found that people with dental anxiety showed significant differences in their brain responses compared with those who were more relaxed.

Nevertheless, the researchers concluded this could help scientists to put anxious patients more at ease by further unraveling how the brain reacts, through monitoring changes in neural activity.

Anxious subjects in the experiment displayed a more intense response in the areas of the brain that play a role in learning and remembering sounds. Relaxed subjects showed more activity in the primary auditory areas of the brain.

The researchers said these findings could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of measures such as cognitive behavioral therapy for anxious dental patients.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a Solution to Dental Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you to manage problems like anxiety by focusing on how your beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes affect your feelings and behavior.

In fact, according to the California-based Anxiety.org2 mental health information resource, researchers in Germany have discovered that cognitive behavioral therapy may offer the best chance of relieving dental apprehension.

Sedation Dentistry to Ease Dental Anxiety

Sedation dentistry offers a range of safe and effective options for people with dental anxiety. Dental sedation relaxes patients by slowing reactions in the central nervous system. Although sometimes known as sleep dentistry, dental sedation in most cases sees the patient remaining aware of what’s happening but less responsive to the procedure. Sedation also reduces the sensation of pain.

Sedatives can be administered by inhalation (nitrous oxide), orally (by taking a pill) and intravenously (directly into a vein).

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) can be used in cases of mild to moderate anxiety to help you stay calm as you breathe in a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen through a mask. The effects of inhalation sedation wear off quickly.

Like nitrous oxide, oral conscious sedation can be mild to moderate and avoids injections – ideal for patients with a fear of needles (belonephobia). You simply swallow a prescription pill about an hour before your appointment. Oral sedation has fewer side effects than intravenous sedation.

With intravenous (IV) sedation, the sedative is injected into a vein in your arm or back of the hand. It works fast and your dentist can easily adjust the levels. The dosage will depend on your treatment and how long it will take. IV sedation can induce various degrees of consciousness in which the patient becomes less aware of what’s going on and will probably remember little about the procedure afterwards. If you think intravenous sedation could be your solution to dental anxiety, look for a dentist who’s IV certified and licensed to administer IV sedation3.